“I didn’t mean to maim you. I only meant to kill you.” Matthew Parker’s final production as Artistic Director of The Hope Theatre is a revival of the intriguing Wendy MacLeod play, The House of Yes. Made famous by the 1997 film of the same name (starring Parker Posey), it follows the events of one fateful evening in 1983.
Thanksgiving night, Virginia. A significant date for Americans, but for the Pascal family it takes on a slightly different meaning; it’s twenty years after the assassination of President John F Kennedy, and Jackie-O (recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital) is eagerly awaiting the return of her twin brother Marty. Her moniker derives from a costume that she wore to an Ides of March party: a pink Chanel suit (à la Jackie Kennedy, later Onassis) covered in fake gore resembling the aftermath of JFK’s shooting. She has sustained an obsession with this moment in history, which remains indelibly linked in her mind with an unhealthy relationship with her twin. When Marty arrives with fiancée Lesly, it seems that it’s not just outside that a storm is brewing – Jackie-O is determined to get Marty back, and their brother Anthony instantly takes a shine to Lesly. Cut off from the outside world by a hurricane, things take an even darker turn overnight…
I’ll say one thing for this production – meteorologically speaking, it has been timed impeccably! When I went to see the show, I dashed into the building following a torrential downpour, to obviously then be greeted by storm sound effects as I entered the auditorium; it all adds to the atmosphere, as the audience arrives at the Pascals’ in much the same state as Marty & Lesly later on. As for the play itself, it does take a little while to get going – a bit more time is necessary to lay the foundations, as there are some difficult topics to be broached and a far-from-typical family to meet. It steadily goes up a notch once all of the characters are under the same roof, and then properly kicks into gear when the power cut forces them into alternative arrangements for the evening.
Parker’s direction places the audience in the midst of the action, extra (unseen) house guests as the actors weave in & out, and get up to no good. The scene transitions provide almost continuous action, the storm raging as the characters move around the space, sometimes quietly talking to themselves in a frenzied manner; the pace never dips, and everything manages to flow pretty smoothly. Rachael Ryan’s set picks up where Thrill Me left off, truly immersing the audience in the strange world of the Pascals. Lighting design from Lucia Sanchez-Roldan and sound design from Simon Arrowsmith combine to give a really atmospheric feel to the space.
The cast of five excel themselves with this potentially tricky piece. Colette Eaton instantly configures herself as the metaphorical eye of the storm as Jackie-O, always the focal point with the destruction going on around her. Supremely confident thanks to a life in which her every whim is indulged, her only weakness seems to be Marty. At the opposite end of the scale is waitress Lesly; at first Kaya Bucholc shows her eagerness to fit in, her more humble background leaving her slightly intimidated, but the strange events of the night boost her determination – Bucholc’s performance sees her quietly gaining strength. Bart Lambert injects some much-needed dark humour with his portrayal of the protective and socially awkward Anthony, though even he’s not averse to a bit of manipulation in order to get his way.
My verdict? Excellent direction combines with all design elements to create a truly atmospheric piece, and the cast also excel – a bold choice of play that serves as a fitting end to Matthew Parker’s tenure.
The House of Yes runs at The Hope Theatre until 26 October 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.